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June 16, 2009
FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK
BETH MURRISON: Good morning, and welcome to the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage. We're honored to have with us today Tiger Woods, three-time U.S. Open champion, not only defending his exciting win at Torrey Pines but also is the defending champion at Bethpage. Can you talk about what it's like to come back to Bethpage this week.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, excited to be here. Obviously the golf course is phenomenal. It's playing long this week. It's not exactly dry out there. And obviously this golf course brings back some great memories for me, seven years ago.
It's good to be back. I've enjoyed playing out here. The practice rounds have all been good, and really looking forward to Thursday.
BETH MURRISON: In addition to your major quest, you also have a chance this week to become the first person in history to win 10 USGA national titles. Have you given that any thought at all?
TIGER WOODS: I didn't know that. So that would be nice. Certainly wouldn't complain about that.
BETH MURRISON: Questions.
Q. What do you think is the most important thing to win this tournament? Is it different from the last year?
TIGER WOODS: As all U.S. Opens you have to drive the ball well. This U.S. Open, with it being this wet and this long, the rough is so thick. I mean, you have to get the ball in play.
Obviously the greens are a little bit flatter than normal. So just getting the ball on the green, you'll have a pretty good look at a putt. I will be curious to see how the USGA sets it up, how much they can move the tees around like they did last year.
Last year it supposedly was supposed to be the longest U.S. Open in history, but we never played it that long. Tees were mixed and matched. And you had to really think about what you were doing out there. I'm sure they'll probably do the same thing this year with it being so wet.
Q. You've repeated in every other major but this one and only Curtis and Ben have done it in the last 70 years. What makes the U.S. Open the toughest one to win?
TIGER WOODS: One, you have to have every facet of your game going. You have to drive the ball well. You have to hit your irons well, and at most Opens, you know speed on the greens is usually an issue. Not this year, obviously, it being so wet and soft.
But generally this is the hardest major we face year in, year out. Narrowest fairways, highest rough. And probably only here and Augusta throughout the year are going to have the fastest greens. But certainly that's not going to be the case this year.
Q. First of all, what do you think about playing a course on which Michael Jordan shot 86; he broke 92. And also why so many different, why do you think so many different players have won majors over the past decade or so?
TIGER WOODS: As far as Michael is concerned, it's a pretty impressive score considering his start. I mean, he tripled 1 and doubled the next three holes and still turned around and shot a good number.
Especially the back nine, he really played well. So it goes to show you that just like all athletes or entertainers they're used to performing in front of crowds. So once you put a little bit of pressure on them it's amazing how well they perform.
They're accustomed to it, and for Michael to be in front of a gallery, he usually plays better. But as far as -- what was the second part of the question?
Q. So many different guys.
TIGER WOODS: I think it's just the depth of the TOUR. The TOUR is so deep now. The margin between a player who is just barely on the TOUR at 125 to some of the top players, it's not that big anymore. It's very small.
If you look at the cuts, when you have top 70 and ties week in, week out, a lot of times it's eight or nine shots that separate the guy from leading from the guy just making the cut. The margin is so much smaller now than it used to be.
Q. Just so many more good players?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, there's a lot more good players. Guys have access to video cameras. Technology has certainly helped a lot. We're so much better at getting the right ball, the right equipment that fits you and your particular swing. You don't have to adjust to the equipment like in years past.
And the guys have gotten so much more efficient at shooting better scores.
Q. Doing a story kind of Bethpage memories from last time around. Have you ever played in front of an audience that was that loud and that into it? And I think we probably remember the reasons why, it was kind of a cathartic thing, post 9/11. What things do you remember and wonder whether you think it could ever be like that again.
TIGER WOODS: Last time we played here, it was just -- I've never played in front of an atmosphere that loud for all 18 holes. Phoenix has one hole or a couple of holes. But I think just the atmosphere in general.
After what transpired here in September, I just think that everyone was just looking to celebrating something else. That's one of the reasons why people got into the playoffs in baseball and basketball, anything to kind of escape it.
When they came out here, everyone was so excited to have it out here on their golf course because it seemed like everyone who's played golf in this area has played this golf course. There's something to be said for that.
Same thing with what happened to us last year at Torrey Pines; it just makes for a better environment, because everyone can relate to what we're doing because they've actually played the same golf course.
And as far as just overall atmosphere, I've never seen anything like it. I don't think we ever will, given circumstances surrounding the event.
Q. What do you think about the long par-4s here, and what makes the 15th hole so difficult?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, there are a lot of long par-4s. I believe there's three that are over 500 yards. That's long. I remember growing up and a 420-yard hole was a long par-4. It's amazing how golf has changed. But it's just a number and just gotta go out there and obviously hit good shots.
The 15th hole is a very interesting hole because you have to get the ball in play in order to get the ball on the green. To get the ball on the correct level is -- it's really hard to do, coming in there with a long iron to an elevated green.
Generally it's going to bounce over the back if you land it up on top. But this year at least you have a chance. It's softer; if you land the ball on top it has a chance of stopping. But you'll see most of the guys putting from the bowl and then putting up and making their 4. If you can play it at 16 for the week, that's a great score.
Q. Is that the most difficult hole here?
TIGER WOODS: It's one of the more difficult holes to make birdie on. As far as making par, normal drive, the shot into the bowl and just work on your speed, you can make pars.
Q. How do you go about kind of keeping the pot boiling after everything clicking so well at Memorial, just in terms of your preparation for this week? Is that kind of the natural platform to then be able to tailor your preparations for what you need?
TIGER WOODS: You need to get better. The whole idea of practicing this week was to make sure I became more comfortable on what we're working on and more efficient at doing it. I've had some good practice sessions at home, and my practice rounds here this week have been really good. Really looking forward to getting out there and competing and playing.
Q. I know you've been playing fantastic, but you usually win two years in a row for all the majors except for the U.S. Open. And this time I'm sure you're planning to win. But how are you going to manage to win and what's the key hole to you this year?
TIGER WOODS: Not really a key hole here. Just like any U.S. Open, they're all hard, especially this golf course. This is probably the most difficult golf course we've faced from tee to green. Obviously it's not the green complexes this week, certainly not Oakmont, or it's not Winged Foot. But from tee to green, this golf course is all you want. With the weather coming in here this week, it's only going to get longer and harder and it's going to be even more difficult.
So I think just like any U.S. Open, you have to be patient. You have to get the ball in play. And at least this week if you put the ball on the greens, you'll have a lot of good chances at birdies because the greens are relatively flat. There are a few exceptions. But put the ball on the right section, you get a lot of good putts.
Q. Tiger, a year ago obviously you had all the issues and the disappointment to not be able to finish the year and everything. Just curious, though, with hindsight, do you think it all worked out for the best? Was it better to get that over with as opposed to waiting until the end of the year to have the surgery? And if you had been able to do that, are you glad it worked out the way it did?
TIGER WOODS: If you look at the overall picture of it, yes. Because if I -- given the circumstances that I had after the U.S. Open, could I have played the British? Yeah, I could have played the British but I would have had to let my leg heal. It was broken. I would probably rebreak it again during the British. That was going to be the constant theme. My leg was probably going to keep rebreaking.
So this is better just to go ahead and fix it. The reason why I had the instability is because I had no ACL. Let's go ahead and make the leg stable, give myself plenty of time to recover and get ready for this season, and then hopefully be back for the Masters, which I was able to do.
So everything worked out well in that regard. And I certainly feel a lot more stable in the leg. I wish I could have competed in the majors and the rest of the events. But long term, it was the best thing to do.
Q. You are swinging differently now than you were in 2002 when you won here. I'm curious, beyond the changes to the course, does it feel different playing it now the 18 holes you've played in practice or do you feel it's the same strategy, same way you approached it in '02?
TIGER WOODS: It's a little bit different. The fairways are much softer than what we faced in '02. We had one day of rain on Friday, I believe. But it still dried out pretty good on the weekend. It's not going to be the case this year.
The golf course is playing long. They moved the tees back. And I don't feel like I've gotten any shorter since 2002, but man, I'm just wearing out my long irons.
So it is a little bit different. But again, if you hit long irons or hybrids or whatever you have into the greens, the ball's holding. It's not repelling. So it really doesn't matter what you're hitting into the greens too much, the ball's going to hold.
Q. At the Memorial you stated one of the reasons that you drove it so well is that it was one of the first tournaments you were able to consistently practice after rounds because of the knee. Does the weather affect that at all, whether you get just normal aches or pains, or will you be able to do the same this week? And also you stated that back when you were growing up, long par-4s, 425 yards, do you think courses are going to need to keep changing to become longer, or should there be rollbacks on equipment, golf balls, anything like that?
Q. The first part of your question, I was able to start practicing at TCP -- sorry, at Wachovia, only for a couple of days, practiced at TCP for a couple of days. I was able to start hitting more balls after a round at Memorial. I was able to have a practice session, not just go hit a couple of balls. So that certainly helps. And put in the time. To get better at this game you have to put in the time. Can't think about it and magically it get better each and every day. You have to do the work.
I'm able to start doing that now. So as far as, what was it, rolling the ball back or equipment or anything like that, you know, I think the golf courses, we're running out of room on a lot of golf courses. And they've tried to put limitations obviously on the speed of the faces, how fast the golf ball can move now.
But if you look at it, guys are getting bigger and stronger. People forget that. When Jack and Gary and Arnold played, and Hogan, they're all about five-nine. I'm at six foot and I'm the shortest guy in the top players of the world.
Guys are just taller and bigger. All the guys who move the ball are out there six-three to six-four, they're bigger guys. We're getting more athletic guys playing the sport. Even if you roll the ball back, even if you slow down the clubs, the guys are still going to get bigger, stronger and faster and more athletic. And that's just part of any sport.
Q. The swing change that you made or the adjustment you made prior to Memorial which worked so well, do you feel that you could bring it here where power is going to be such an important aspect of winning? And secondly, do you like your chances? If it does get wet, it is a long iron course. Do you prefer your chances on something like that?
TIGER WOODS: I like my chances in any major. I just enjoy having to think your way around a golf course. It's not -- a lot of the TOUR events we play you just have to make birdies. If you don't shoot 68 you're losing ground. Here if you shoot 68 you're moving up on the leaderboard. To me that's fun. Par is rewarded and a birdie is really rewarded.
That to me, it's how the game of golf should be played. As far as my swing changes and everything, I think that you have to get the ball in play. So whatever it takes. Get the ball in play. Granted, we'll have much longer clubs, but as I said earlier, I don't know how the USGA is going to move up the tees or not, how much they're going to move them up. I think I'm still one of the longer hitters on TOUR and I'm hitting long irons. A lot of the shorter guys are obviously hitting woods into the greens. If it rains, how much are they going to move up the tees is going to be the question.
But still, we all know that you shoot something under par you'll be looking pretty good.
Q. At Memorial you had a great week off the tee, hitting 14 out of 14 on Sunday. You put a different set of irons in the bag, you added loft in your driver. Can you tell us why you decided to go with a different set of irons, and talk about the difference with what you played there and so far what it looks like you have in the bag and what you had been playing with previously?
TIGER WOODS: I went back to an old set that I played before and I've had some success with. I went back to that.
As far as my driver is concerned, as we all know, loft is your friend. And the reason why you hit a 3-wood straighter is obviously because it's got more loft. That helps. My release has changed over the years and just need a little bit more loft now.
It's working out. I'm driving the ball more efficiently, and I still have the same power. But I certainly need the loft now to -- when I first came out here on TOUR, I used a 6.5 driver, and now I'm up to 10.5. I hate to see when I get to 40, how that's going to be, have to get a 46-inch driver and 15-degree lofted driver. But it is what it is. Technology has changed, the ball doesn't spin as much as it used to. You have to have more loft than you used to to play.
Q. You've mentioned a couple of times already where the USGA might put the tee boxes. In the past where the tees were was where they were; they weren't going to move. Could you talk a little bit about the change of philosophy under the way Tom Meeks and the previous USGA the way it is now with Mike Davis and more leeway with the course setup?
TIGER WOODS: Absolutely no doubt. Tom liked to set up the golf course right on the very edge. And for all those years he did a great job, except for one year, got away from him on Sunday at Shinnecock. But other than that he did a great job but he would always like to push it to the edge.
Mike's different. Mike's trying to make the golf course more playable, bring back shot-making and unpredictability of the flyer.
Should I go, not go for the green? And I think that what the guys saw at Pinehurst when we first did it, everyone liked it, to be able to have the chance to be able to go for the green. But in the end it brought in over the green. More guys were making doubles than they used to. Before you used to just wedge out and know you have a little sand wedge in, make par most of the time.
The guys got a little bit aggressive. You saw last year at Torrey Pines how many guys tried to hit shots and put themselves in worse trouble than if they had a long rough and hacking out sideways.
Q. Another Father's Day coming up. At Bay Hill you talked about how when you had to get back to your putting fundamentals you would remember things that your father said. I was wondering in what other ways your father's voice still resonates where you will still hear him, if you could give any examples of that?
TIGER WOODS: Well, probably every time I play. I always think about Dad, and especially when I take the time off and I come back and I start playing again. All my practice sessions I'll go back to my old fundamentals I learned from Dad.
So for me going out there and competing and playing and some of the thoughts that I've had over the years all go back to his original teachings. So it's pretty much every time I play I always think about Dad.
Q. In 2002 the 15th hole had the largest differential over par of any hole on the PGA TOUR that year. You just said you thought it might be a decent place to make a par. Is there any hole on the course that you think might be harder to make par on than 15?
TIGER WOODS: No.
Q. Back at Medinah in '99, after you won that PGA, did you assume that Sergio would be a guy who would win a bunch of majors, and if so, how surprised are you that he hasn't broken through?
TIGER WOODS: I think we're all surprised that he hasn't yet. He's had his chances. He's been right there a few times in the final group. But just like anything, it takes time. It takes time to understand how to do it.
You know, look at how many years it took Paddy to learn. Once he's learned, he's won three real quick. So it's just a matter of time, I think. He's got all the talent. It's just a matter of hitting the right shots at the right time.
Q. Given what the U.S. Open demands in order to win it, something you know a lot about, is there a prototypical U.S. Open player? Can there be one? Are you that player or the closest thing to it?
TIGER WOODS: There used to be a mold of it. I'm sure some of the years past it seemed like every person was a pretty short hitter, very straight. Look at Scott Simpson, Curtis. Even though Faldo didn't win it, he was always right there.
That seemed like that was the type of player that it took to win U.S. Opens. But now I think that it has changed a little bit. There's different ways of playing. You can do what Angel did, hit driver every hill at Oakmont. If it works out, it works out, which it did. Or you can play a shorter, more conservative game.
The whole idea of a U.S. Open is obviously to grind it out and make pars. How you do that, it's up to you. You just can't afford to make too many bogeys or doubles because you can't make birdies. So however you feel you can make a bunch of pars, I think that's what you're looking for.
Q. What are the specific shots, and what about the golf do you remember from '02 for yourself personally? What are the things that stand out in your memory?
TIGER WOODS: I remember quite a bit of the final round. I remember how miserable it was in the morning on Friday. But not as bad as the guys in the afternoon.
I certainly remember how loud it was on Saturday, when guys were making their runs, Sergio and Phil making putts there at the end. I think I was back there up on 15 and hadn't made a birdie yet. And I'm hearing these huge roars go up there down on 16 and 17 from Phil and Sergio. And I finally made my first birdie of the day.
I think just the overall atmosphere is what I truly remember here because it was extraordinary. We hadn't seen anything like it. Probably never will.
Q. During this tournament, it will be your daughter's birthday. How will you celebrate that, by winning?
TIGER WOODS: It's not a bad thing. I certainly would like to have that happen, no doubt. It's hard to believe it's already been two years. Time flies. It was at Oakmont, looked like she could have been born any day during that week. Luckily it was on Monday, Monday night, technically, late night.
It's just hard to believe that time flies so fast, and it's been so much fun. And to have her see her in the photos at the U.S. Open last year to where she is now, running around and speaking English and Swedish, and more Swedish than English. But it's just amazing. It's so much fun.
Q. As someone who knows a little bit about playing with other things on their mind when people are sick, I don't know if you've spoken to Phil at all, but how difficult do you think it will be for him this week? And I know you spent a lot of time around Amy, at least at Ryder Cup. How would you describe her as a person?
TIGER WOODS: Is it easy? No, it's not easy. When my dad was sick, that's kind of the natural progression anyways. Your parents are supposed to pass away before you. And God forbid how they get sick or how it ends. But to have a spouse, you're supposed to go together. And to have, I couldn't imagine dealing with what he has to deal with on a daily basis. And hats off to how he's handled it because certainly it's so hard to do. Everywhere you go people are reminding you of it, and you can't get away from it. And you think that the golf course would be your escape, but it's not.
You're surrounded by people wishing you well the entire time and hope everything works out. But then again, they keep reminding you of the same circumstance you're dealing with on a daily basis, and you just can't get away from it.
It's hard, and I don't know how they're doing it. But certainly it's difficult.
And Amy as a person, she's a sweetheart. She's been just so nice and so generous to everyone she meets. And all the years that we've played doubles and table tennis, Elin and myself and Phil and Amy, those are priceless times.
Myself and everyone out here hopes that she gets well and she's back out here as soon as she can.
Q. You obviously have seen how much he's embraced everywhere, but certainly there's something about New York that's really embraced him. Do you have any -- can you imagine what it's going to be like when he gets here tomorrow and begins playing in just terms of the reaction? You talked about how loud it was in general in '02.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, it's going to be -- it's going to be loud. It's going to be -- you know, hopefully it's one of those things where you try and find energy somewhere, because I can only speak from my experience with my dad and losing someone close to me. You don't sleep much. It's hard. To find energy from outside the ropes, sometimes that's a great thing.
Q. Compared to when you came out of Bay Hill physically, where are you now and this week do you have any physical restrictions on you?
TIGER WOODS: No, I feel great. Compared to Bay Hill, it's night and day. Like everyone says, you think that after the surgery I feel so great, six eight months later. But everyone says just imagine what you feel like in another six months. But I keep getting better and better.
It's fun, because before no matter what I did I kept getting worse. No matter how hard I trained, the leg was deteriorating. I kept doing more damage to the thing. Now it's the exact opposite.
Q. In your opinion, who do you think at this point is the best golfer of all time and why?
TIGER WOODS: Jack.
Q. How close are you?
TIGER WOODS: He's got 18. I'm at 14.
Q. Sometimes players seem to try to change their golf swing soon after winning a major. Ian Baker-Finch did it years ago and recently Michael Campbell and Harrington, as well. Do you think there's some times it's not -- why do players do that, do you think? I realize they're individuals and you may not know. Do you think players can go too far to change their swing?
TIGER WOODS: You're asking the wrong guy. After I won the Masters by 12 I changed my swing. People thought I was crazy for that. I said just wait. Just be patient with it. It will come around. And in '99 and 2000 I won 17 times.
So sometimes you have to take a step or two back before you can make a giant leap forward. And that's the hard part, sticking through those periods. And even though you're making those changes, finding a way to post a number or shoot a score and win a golf tournament, that becomes a lot more difficult.
Anyone can do it when they're hot. But to grind it out and suck it up and get it done somehow and turn it around, that could cost you a tournament, a round that keeps you in the tournament, those are testing times. Plus everyone's always asking you about it, too.
Every round you finish, you complete, someone asks you about your swing changes, is it worth it, blah, blah, blah and you keep getting it all the time until you turn it around.
Q. The announcement this week that Pinehurst is going to host two Opens back to back in 2015, your thoughts on that? It's never been done, and how do you think it will work?
TIGER WOODS: It will certainly be interesting. I think it will be great for the people in that area to see that much golf at the highest levels. I think it certainly is creative. It's probably the only golf course you could probably do that on.
We'll see what happens. Hopefully the weather will be good for both weeks.
Q. Do you see somebody trying to play both of them? Would you be interested, there's been talk of Michelle Wie or someone might try to qualify?
TIGER WOODS: I need to have a sex change; is that what you're saying? (Laughter.)
Q. I mean, if Michelle Wie or somebody tried --
TIGER WOODS: You go that way. You can't go the other way. Probably. I mean, she's played men's events before. She's the only one besides Annika to do it, in recent years. If anyone is going to try and do it or has set a precedent in doing it, it is Michelle. We'll see what happens. That's the great thing about our U.S. Open. It's open to anyone.
Q. You spoke about the atmosphere, the crowds and the environment back in 2002. You obviously inspired the crowds. Did they inspire you, and do you feel that this week they could act like an extra club in the bag?
TIGER WOODS: No doubt. It was incredible. The energy that was out here, it's just phenomenal. We've never seen anything like it. It wasn't just the four rounds that we competed in. It was even the practice rounds.
Monday was loud. It was like 40,000 people out here on a Monday. It was just electric the entire week. And even when it was raining the people were out there cheering and having a great time, tipping back a couple.
But it was just an atmosphere that if you're playing well, you feel like you could keep it rolling; if you weren't playing well, people were cheering so hard for you to turn it around. It was just a great crowd to play in front of.
Q. Tiger, I know you followed the NBA Finals with a keen interest. Just curious when you watch somebody like Kobe Bryant in action, the best in his sport, which ingredients in his champion makeup do you most identify with?
TIGER WOODS: Well, just his work ethics is phenomenal. The hours he puts into it from just shooting on his own to all the film study. Look at him on the court, how he guides his team throughout the game. That's steady. That's knowing the offenses, knowing defense you're going against, knowing basically all the chess pieces. That takes hours upon hours upon hours of study.
His preparation is second to none, how he does it. And that's certainly something that anyone can appreciate. The time he puts into it, you just think -- it shows up on the courts. Averages 32 a night. It's not that easy.
What he does off the court in preparation is just phenomenal.
Q. How much did you need the Memorial before this to play that way? Obviously you had finished top 10 several times I realize. But even you acknowledge on Sunday you hadn't played as much as you wanted to. How much did that help this week to prepare you?
TIGER WOODS: I played -- unfortunately the Sundays I didn't play well and didn't win, that was kind of how I was playing the rest of the week. A lot of those times I did it was smoke and mirrors and making some putts or hitting a key shot at the right time, get a good bounce. But I hadn't actually put it together that week or for the whole week.
Sunday was just a culmination of what I've been doing. I missed -- one of the days, I forgot what it was, hit 13 out of 14 fairways and missed it on 18.
So that was just a culmination, Sunday was a culmination of what I had been doing. It wasn't like I stood out. It was just what I've been doing. The other tournaments, unfortunately that's what I've been doing leading into it but somehow put myself into a position where I could win.
Unfortunately, I performed on Sunday like I was performing the first three days.
Q. Does that matter much this week what you impressed in your mind two weeks ago?
TIGER WOODS: It's always nice to play well going into a major championship, no doubt. To get a win always adds to the confidence, and no matter how you win, if you can win this way, ball-striking, hitting it that well, especially going into a U.S. Open, it always makes you feel pretty good.
BETH MURRISON: Thank you.
End of FastScripts